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Brittney Griner freed by Russia in 1-for-1 prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout, US official says

Brittney GrinerThe WNBA star who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug charges, was released on Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner exchange for international arms dealer Victor’s fight, according to a US official. The one-for-one exchange agreement negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks was definitively approved by President Biden inside solo last week, according to sources familiar with the deal. The exchange, first reported by CBS News, took place Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.

Five former US officials told CBS News of the deal. had been reached from Last Thursday.

A White House official said President Biden was in the Oval Office Thursday morning on the phone with Griner and his wife, and that Vice President Kamala Harris was also in the room. Under standard procedure for released American prisoners, Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation.

President Biden is expected to speak at 8:30 am ET at the White House on the prisoner exchange that saw Brittney Griner released. You will be able to see his live comments from him in the player at the top of this page.

To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered that Bout be released and returned to Russia. Mr. Biden signed the commutation order shortening Bout’s 25-year federal prison sentence.

Notably, the Griner-for-Bout trade leaves the retired US Marine Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for almost four years. The was convicted on espionage charges that the United States has called false.

President Biden meets with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan


Griner was detained at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the discovery of cartridges of cannabis-derived oil in her luggage.

After five months of stalled diplomacy and various permutations of potential swap deals, including a previously unreported offer by the US last summer to send two prisoners back to Russia for the two Americans, sources say that the one-for-one trade came to fruition over the past two weeks.

It’s unclear what led to the breakthrough, but the Biden administration made at least one concession by agreeing to reduce the trade to one American for one Russian.

In late November, the State Department criticized the Russian government for failing to negotiate in good faith. As recently as Sunday, on CBS News”Take on the Nation“Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US negotiators were ‘actively engaged’ with their Russian counterparts.

Blinken says US remains ‘actively engaged’ with Russia over possible prisoner swap


Asked by CBS News about reports of Russia’s desire for a one-for-one trade despite US hopes of returning both Griner and Whelan, Blinken noted that any deal would be subject to mutual agreement.

“The other party has a vote on this. It’s not just what we want. It is what they are prepared to do,” Blinken said, without denying the Russian reports. However, he indicated that the administration continued to press for the return of both Americans.

“One way or another, one day or another, we’re going to make it,” he said.

In July, the Biden administration said it had offered the Kremlin what it described as a “significant proposal” to bring both American prisoners home. The White House never publicly confirmed what the US had offered, but privately, officials told CBS News that initial news reports pointing to only Bout being released were incorrect, and that the president he was prepared to consider letting two Russian prisoners return in exchange. for the freedom of Griner and Whelan.

Whelan, who once worked as a corporate security contractor, was in Moscow for a friend’s wedding when he was detained at a hotel in December 2018. Russian authorities later sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage, a charge the US The US and Whelan denied. This month marks the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s time in Russian custody.

Bout, who was recently held in a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, was arrested by Thailand’s Drug Enforcement Agency following a sting operation in 2008. He was found guilty of conspiring to kill Americans and began his 25-year sentence. a decade ago. .

Viktor’s Match (2010) | 60 minute archive

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Before his arrest, Bout was accused by the UN of arming Liberian President Charles Taylor during the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone. He served as the inspiration for the character of Nicholas Cage in the movie “Lord of War.” Bout’s release is sure to draw criticism from some of the DEA agents who tracked him down and arrested him.

Griner’s arrest coincided with the start of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February, and all of America’s dealings with the Kremlin have been complicated by that conflict. The United States has said that both Griner and Whelan were “wrongfully detained” and officials suspect that Russia has been using the American prisoners as leverage.

Griner’s return for Bout marks the Biden administration’s second prisoner exchange with Russia. In April, the US exchanged Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiring to import cocaine, for trevor cane. The former US Marine had been jailed in Russia for nearly three years.

American freed in prisoner exchange talks about life in Russian prison


CBS News learned last Thursday that the Griner-for-Bout trade was in the offing, but agreed to a White House request to suspend the report because officials expressed serious concern about the fragility of the emerging deal.

Biden administration officials warned that making the trade details public beforehand would almost certainly lead Russia to withdraw from the deal and could jeopardize Griner’s well-being.

Nancy Cordes, Ed O’Keefe, Sara Cook, Camilla Schick, and Haley Ott contributed to this reporting.

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